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Tuesday October 25, 2011 | 12:07 PM

The charitable foundation of The Blackstone Group, a global private equity firm, made a big contribution to the Maine economy this month – a $3 million initiative to provide grants to Maine entrepreneurship programs.

Executives from The Blackstone Group made a sizeable contribution to the campaign of Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, this Spring when the company held a fundraising event at its New York offices for the three-term lawmaker seeking reelection in 2012.

Sixteen Blackstone Group executives gave Snowe individual contributions totaling $37,800, with most of the checks cut on May 26, according to data compiled by the nonpartisan campaign finance research organization Center for Responsive Politics. That made The Blackstone Group executives Snowe’s top contributor, as a group, thus far for the 2012 campaign cycle, ahead of individuals and political action committees associated with entities such as Fresenius Medical Care, Deutsche Bank and Ritchies Pharmacy, according to center data that preceded Snowe’s most recent third-quarter campaign filing.

(The summary on the center’s site shows that individuals or PACs associated with The Blackstone Group have given Snowe $40,300 this cycle. However, that includes money from an individual and a PAC associated with Apria Healthcare, a company bought in the fall of 2008 by Blackstone. The Blackstone Group does not have a PAC.)

Another Blackstone-Snowe connection is lobbyist Dave Lugar, who hosted a fundraiser for Snowe in September this fall at a Washington restaurant, according to a database of fundraisers compiled by the nonpartisan Sunlight Foundation and also kept on the center's site. Among Lugar’s clients is Blackstone, according to the Center for Responsive Politics’ lobbyist database, although Lugar also represents Google.

Is there any connection between the support for Snowe’s campaign by executives from The Blackstone Group and the decision by the firm’s charitable foundation to make a big bucks economic development contribution to Maine’s business innovation climate?

There is no connection, say Christine Anderson, a spokeswoman for The Blackstone Group, and the Snowe campaign.

“The Blackstone Charitable Foundation's activities are in no way linked to employees personal political giving,” Anderson said via email in response to a question from Maine on The Hill. “Blackstone does not have a PAC and individual employees make personal decisions to support candidates of their choice.  We are frequently asked to host events at the firm for candidates from both parties and hosted one for Senator Snowe in 2011.”

Justin Brasell, Snowe’s campaign manager, said that, “My understanding is that the $3 million grant was in the works long before this event…As for the fundraiser - they offered to host an event and we accepted. The grant and the fundraiser were in no way connected.”

The gift to Maine from the foundation was one in a series of grants it has made and plans to make across the country. Before Maine, the foundation had given a $3.6 million grant in North Carolina for similar purposes and a $2 million grant in Detroit. The foundation plans $50 million worth of such initiatives over the next five years in 10 to 15 states, according to Anderson.

The spark for the Maine grant occurred in 2009, when Karen Mills, the administrator of the U.S. Small Business Administration and a Mainer, met with the foundation and promoted Maine as a good place for it to make an investment in entrepreneurship, said Anderson, who noted that Blackstone Group CEO Stephen Schwarzman also recounted that history during his speech earlier this month at the formal grant announcement at the former Brunswick Naval Air Station.

Schwarzman “said in his speech announcing the grant, that the Blackstone Charitable Foundation was encouraged to visit Maine during a meeting with U.S. Small Business Administrator Karen Mills back in 2009,” Anderson said. “She encouraged us to visit Maine to see what the state was doing to encourage entrepreneurship. When we did, we were surprised and impressed by what we found.  Maine has an extensive network of local organizations that offer support for entrepreneurs, meeting our criteria for strong local partners who can help implement our program. We saw an opportunity to help take these effective but under funded programs state wide and provide the connectivity necessary to fuel an innovation economy.”

On hand for the announcement were Mills, Snowe, and the rest of the Maine delegation, GOP Sen. Susan Collins of Maine and Democratic Reps. Chellie Pingree of the 1st district and Mike Michaud of the 2nd district.

Schwarzman got a lot of publicity last year for comparing President Obama’s plan to raise taxes on private equity firms to Hitler’s invasion of Poland. He apologized for the analogy but didn’t back off his criticism of Obama’s tax hike proposals.

Schwarzman was a financial backer of Obama’s 2008 rival, Republican John McCain, but others at The Blackstone Group backed Obama, and executives give to both Democrats and Republicans.

Thus far in the 2012 cycle, according to the most recent center data available, Blackstone executives have given 94 donations totaling $249,000.

At least four other candidates have received similar amounts to Snowe: Republican president candidate Mitt Romney got $30,500; Republican Rep. Dave Camp of Michigan got $35,800; Democratic Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York got $35,000; and Democratic Sen. Debbie Stabenow of Michigan got $32,500.

The foundation also has spent money in Michigan.

Stabenow, like Snowe, also is a member of the Senate Finance Committee, which has jurisdiction over many of the tax matters that concerns a private equity firm like The Blackstone Group. Both Stabenow and Snowe are up for reelection in 2012. And Camp is the chairman of the tax-writing House Ways and Means Committee.

The Blackstone Group executives have not contributed to Pingree or Michaud, according to the center’s database.

And while individuals and PACs associated with the Blackstone Group are listed by the center as contributing $15,600 back during the 2008 campaign to Collins, much of that appears to be from Apria’s PAC and executives.

 

 

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Kevin Miller is Washington bureau chief for the Portland Press Herald and MaineToday Media. He has worked as a journalist in Maine for 6 ½ years, covering the environment, politics and the State House. Before arriving in Maine, he wrote about politics, government and education for newspapers in Virginia and Maryland.
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